Live song recordings and stellar acting were not the only things that set apart the recent Universal Pictures movie adaptation of Les Miserables. The aura that it produced, that indescribable something that held viewers – it was palpable and enduring. So much so that when I went to see the 157 minute movie, the audience (every single soul) remained in their seat for quite a while after the credits had rolled. The weight of Victor Hugo’s message, the brutality of the era depicted – they all came across marvelously well in this motion picture adaptation.
I had the same reaction when I read the epic book. Hugo left me enthralled for over 1,200 pages of printed wonder. A tale worth telling takes time, and the French Romantic writer penned the epic so that it was bursting with details and laden with historical significance. The tour de force is teeming with characters, who were Parisian society’s underdogs for various and sundry reasons – thus the title Les Miserables (The Miserables).
While the recent movie version was not able to capture each character, it did focus on some of the more substantial ones that cropped up in the book. Fantine, the single mother who struck a redemptive spark in the story, was played by Anne Hathaway with a most memorable and noteworthy acting and musical performance.
Hathaway could hang her entire career on this movie. She rendered the title song with such raw unabashed emotion, that it seemed that she dropped her mother lode of skill. Others, such as Hugh Jackman as the fugitive Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as lawman Javert were also masterful. These distinguished actors in particular rendered their parts and wrapped lyrics and melodies around their roles with great imaginative ability. It was a treat to see them twin their known abilities so wonderfully with the skill demand of singing while conveying the story. Without exception, each actor and actress could be called double-threats, at least.
The book was written in such a way that one felt drawn into the era; which was the time of the French Empire and Revolution, Napoleon and other rulers and The Battle of Waterloo. 19th Century action scenes and characters were so well-written and detailed, that envisioning them was effortless. Hugo masterfully did the work, it was ours to enjoy his labors.
Believability is everything in a movie like this. Props and period costumes, buildings and scenes provoked deeper understanding of the plot and the complex message of the movie. It also had an “I’ll-take-you-there” kind of quality about it.
Two deliberately raunchy characters of ill-repute provided measured humor to the story. While the couple known as the Thenardiers cropped up in the book periodically, they were rendered more unpleasantly uncouth in the theatrical version. Here the couple’s unscrupulous behavior took on a humorous aspect that wasn’t readily apparent in the book. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Boham Carter held forth deliciously as the naughty couple of comic relief in the musical drama film.
Time and again I was riveted to the pages like a paper is fixed to a cork-board by a thumbtack. The riveting device was Hugo’s crafty use of words. Often I read many enjoyable pages knowing that the fuller payoff would come later. I also found that the delay of fullest gratification was sweet, causing me to say, “Ah, now I know why he shared those details, laid that foundation, or introduced that character.”
It pays a worthy tribute to Hugo that his book is still widely read, has enjoyed an enduring season on the global stage as a highly celebrated play, and has been repeatedly attempted as a movie. Praise for Hugo, kudos to Director Tom Hooper, and hats off to Hathaway for this most recent effort. I can’t wait until this is available on DVD so I can watch it again and again. Paired with the book it certainly helped me to make a “French connection.”